Bitcoin IRAs: Is Investing Your Retirement Money in Crypto a Good Idea?

Bitcoin IRAs: Is Investing Your Retirement Money in Crypto a Good Idea?

Think twice before buying digital gold in your golden years.

Oct 18

Bitcoin IRAs: Is Investing Your Retirement Money in Crypto a Good Idea?
Retirement

Retirement

Crypto

Crypto

Tax Advantaged

Tax Advantaged

The year is 2018. Bob spends his days tending the garden, solving crossword puzzles and walking his dogs in the local park. Bob worked long hours at a job he hated for 20 years until he heard about Bitcoin IRAs. 

In the heat of that moment, Bob opened a Bitcoin IRA and rolled 100% of his retirement savings over to it. And when the price of Bitcoin hit $16K, Bob cussed out his boss, quit his job and retired early. 

Ah, life is good. 

Except, when Bob checks in on his Bitcoin IRA months later, he’s shocked to see that all of his crypto gains have been erased. 

“Oh shit.”

Don’t be like Bob.

What's a Bitcoin IRA?

First off: no, it’s not a gang of Irish tech nerds. Let’s start from scratch and build our understanding up—bit by bit.

Understanding self-directed IRAs

An individual retirement account (IRA) is an investment account people use to grow their retirement savings in a tax-advantaged way. When you open a regular IRA, you can invest in traditional assets like stocks, bonds and mutual funds with it, but most IRA custodians don’t let you invest in alternative assets

That’s what self-directed IRAs were made for. With these accounts, you can invest in a broader selection of investments including real estate, precious metals, commodities, cryptocurrencies and more.

Bitcoin IRAs: a type of self-directed IRA

Bitcoin, as you may well know, is the most time-tested and valuable cryptocurrency in the world. The IRS considers Bitcoin to be a type of property, which isn’t supported by regular IRAs.

Hence, the Bitcoin IRA. This is a self-directed IRA that lets you hold Bitcoin in a retirement account. Most Bitcoin IRA custodians also allow you to invest in other cryptocurrencies like Ethereum, Cardano and XRP.

How do Bitcoin IRAs work?

A Bitcoin IRA works just like any other self-directed IRA, where the specific advantages and conditions depend on the type of IRA you choose to open. We’ll focus on the two most popular options.

 Traditional IRAsRoth IRAs
DescriptionLet you make tax-deferred contributions to your accountLet you make after-tax contributions to your account
Income LimitNoneSingle taxpayers have to make less than $140K as of 2021. For joint filers, the limit is $208K
Annual Contribution Limit$6,000 if you’re younger than 50 and $7,000 if you’re 50 or older (as of 2021)$6,000 if you’re younger than 50 and $7,000 if you’re 50 or older (as of 2021)
Withdrawal ConditionsYou can withdraw your money penalty-free starting at age 59½, which you then have to pay taxes on. Early withdrawals incur a penalty of 10% of the amount withdrawnWithdraw your money at any time, for any reason, with zero taxes and penalties

Which Bitcoin IRA Type Suits You?

Traditional IRAs are suited to those who believe that they’ll be in a lower tax bracket in retirement, having to pay fewer taxes on their savings.

Roth IRAs are suited to those who believe that they’ll be in a higher tax bracket when they’re retired and don’t want to give up most of their gains to taxes. So, if you believe that Bitcoin’s price is going to explode before you retire, this is your best option.

Peeking under the hood of a Bitcoin IRA

Normal IRAs function as all-in-one platforms for buying, selling and storing your investments. Bitcoin IRAs, however, require three solutions that may all operate independently:

  1. Custodian: A financial institution that safekeeps your IRA and ensures that your account meets IRS regulations. 
  2. Exchange: Similar to stock brokerages, exchanges like Coinbase and Binance enable you to buy and sell cryptocurrencies. 
  3. Wallet: This is a physical device or application where you store and protect your cryptocurrencies from theft. 

The advantages of Bitcoin IRAs

When you crunch the numbers on your retirement accounts you might conclude that you won’t have as much as you'd like to have by the time you retire. Bitcoin IRAs are risky, and you can lose a lot of money—but you can also earn a lot of money, fast-tracking your trip to retirement.

Upside potential 

As of March 2021, Bitcoin was hailed as the best performing asset of the decade with an annualized return of 230%. That’s 10 times higher than the US Nasdaq 100. 

Tax advantages

If you’re trading cryptocurrencies with a normal account, you’ll have to pay taxes on all of your capital gains. But with a Traditional or Roth IRA, you’ll be able to delay or avoid these taxes altogether. 

Diversification

Cryptocurrency is uncorrelated to traditional asset classes like stocks and bonds. And since the Federal Reserve’s money printer is still going “Brrrr”, Bitcoin could also act as a hedge against inflation.

All hail the Techno-king?

Elon Musk, the Techno-king of Tesla, has the power to move the crypto markets. Many even blame the last market crash on his announcement that Tesla would no longer accept Bitcoin as payment. 

Would you buy more Bitcoin if Tesla started accepting it as payment again?

All hail the Techno-king?

Should you really put your retirement money in crypto?

Self-directed IRAs are inherently riskier, and Bitcoin IRAs even have a few unique downsides of their own. These include:

High volatility

From late 2017 to early 2018, the price of Bitcoin dropped from $20,000 to about $3,000. People who bought in at the height of the market had to wait 2 years for their investments to recover. Someone close to retirement doesn’t have that kind of time on their side.

Realized losses

With taxable investment accounts, you’re able to deduct your losses. So, even a bad trade has its benefits. The same isn’t possible with tax-advantaged accounts like Bitcoin IRAs. 

High fees

While normal IRAs typically let you set up your account and invest for free, self-directed IRAs tend to surprise you with hidden fees, including:

  • Setup fees
  • Trading fees
  • Account management fees
  • Transfer fees

 

High investment minimums

Compared to regular IRAs, Bitcoin IRAs can have high investment minimums of up to tens of thousands of dollars.

Great responsibilities

While Bitcoin IRA custodians administer your account, they are totally hands-off when it comes to investment advice. This means that you, as the account holder, are solely responsible for research, due diligence and asset management.

Damned if I do, damned if I don’t?

Not necessarily. Follow these rules of thumb if you’re considering opening a Bitcoin IRA:

  1. If you're close to retirement, think twice about investing money you'll need in retirement with a Bitcoin IRA. On the other hand, if you can stomach huge swings and have a long time horizon, then you’re game. 
  2. Only invest a small portion of your net worth (generally below 5%) in a Bitcoin IRA to diversify your investment portfolio. Ideally, you should also be on track to retire comfortably even if you lose the money you've invested in crypto.
  3. Bitcoin IRAs aren’t generally suited to investors who value minimalism. That’s right, I’m talking to all of you Matt D’Avella fans out there.
  4. Don’t rely on a Bitcoin IRA to fund big future expenses like first-time home purchases or college tuition.

Where to open a Bitcoin IRA

If you’ve settled on opening a Bitcoin IRA, the next step is choosing a custodian. Some Bitcoin IRAs are one-stop shops for opening an IRA, buying crypto and securely storing it. 

With other custodians, you’ll need to find your own crypto exchange and storage solution. Evaluate custodians by:

  • Account type: Double check whether a custodian supports your desired IRA type, whether it be Traditional or Roth. 
  • Available cryptos: Aside from Bitcoin, do they support other cryptocurrencies you want to invest in?
  • Insured funds: Some custodians reimburse you in the case of theft or the firm going bankrupt.
  • Supported platforms: If it’s not a one-stop shop, make sure they support your preferred exchange or wallet.
  • Reasonable fees: Compare a few custodians to make sure that you’re not being overcharged. 

 

Here are a few of the most popular Bitcoin IRA providers:

 Alto CryptoIRABitcoin IRAIRA Financial Trust
DescriptionAll-in-one, low-cost Bitcoin IRA with the broadest selection of investmentsHighly insured, all-in-one Bitcoin IRA with over 100,000 usersLow-cost Bitcoin IRA with the highest insurance coverage
IRA TypesTraditional, Roth, SEPTraditional, RothTraditional, Roth
Available crypto(s)80950+
InsuredN/A$100 million custody insurance$200 Million coverage via Gemini
Supported exchange(s)CoinbaseBuilt-in exchangeGemini
Investment minimum$0$3,000$0
Fees$0 setup and custody fees, 1.5% per trade, $50 account closure fee, $25 outbound wire transfer fee.One-time service fee based on your investment amount plus a custodian and security fee, must call representatives for exact fees$75 quarterly flat account fee⁠, no transaction fees, $15-$200 in wire transfer fees

What's the upside?

If you're self-employed or running a side hustle, you can open a SEP (Simplified Employee Pension) IRA. The biggest advantage of a SEP IRA over other types of IRAs is:

What's the upside?

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